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Hildegard Von BINGEN (1098-1179)
Music for Paradise - The Best of Hildegard Von Bingen
O Jerusalem [10:23]
O rubor sanguinis [1:58]
O tu suavissima virga [11:14]
Symphoniae: O quam mirabilis [3:08]
Caritas habundat in omnia [2:10]
O cruor sanguinis [1:35]
O vis aeternitatis [7:57]
O beata infantia (Antiphon, fol. 470v) / Domine, Dominus noster (Psalm 8) [5:55]
O vos, felices radices (De Patriarchis et Prophetis, Responsorium) [5:05]
O presul vere civitatis (sequence, fol. 475v) [8:44]
Instrumental dance [1:47]
Scene 4: Quae es, aut unde venis? 9:07]
Finale: In principio [4:08]
Sequentia/Barbara Thornton and Benjamin Bagby
rec. location and date unspecified
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 88697 983052 [73:17]

Sequentia have gained a great reputation for themselves in their advocacy of medieval music in general and the music of Hildegard von Bingen in particular. Their recordings of her complete music run to eight discs (available on DHM/Sony) and this collection serves both as a compendium of their achievement, with extracts from many of those discs, and as a worthy introduction to Hildegard’s music.
 
Documentation for the disc is on the slight side: they rather cheekily mention in the notes that “complete program notes and a more profound look at Hildegard’s music can be found in the detailed booklets of the original Sequentia CDs - all still available on deutsche harmonia mundi - from which this collection has been made.” That means that you get the English translation of each number without the original Latin text, and a brief but serviceable biography of Hildegard herself. However, there is no information on the performance style or practice that has made Sequentia’s series so groundbreaking and interesting. This is a shame, but most listeners will be happy to let the music speak for itself.
 
This collection contains a good range of Hildegard’s music, recorded in performances of complete commitment and intelligence, captured in a radiant acoustic that creates a gorgeous bloom around the sound. The vocal line is in unison throughout and it meanders through seemingly endless melismas, creating a spellbinding sense of the music unfolding from within itself. There is plenty of variety here, though. There are delicate solo movements (such as tracks 2 and 4), and the choral numbers are powerful in their intensity. The very first track, for example, sounds very large in scale, though it’s difficult to tell exactly how many singers were employed.
 
Some of the tracks are unaccompanied, while others use instrumental effects of various kinds, such as a drone (or two) or, in the case of O Jerusalem, what sounds like a full peal of church bells. Sometimes the vocal line is melodious and hypnotic, as in O vis aeternitatis, and sometimes it is more straightforward plainchant, as in O beata infantia. It’s never less than interesting, though, and it’s frequently very moving indeed.
 
Any collection of Hildegard’s music must include Hyperion’s ground-breaking A Feather on the Breath of God, but this is a very good introduction to this remarkable woman and to her entire medieval sound-world.
 
Simon Thompson